How to Groom Your Gray Horse

Friends, we’ve all heard George Morris explain how to groom your horse properly: curry, hard brush, soft brush, damp rag. As our High King, we must listen to his wisdom.

I humbly submit this slightly altered version- with few differences!- that has been optimized for you and the gray horse in your life.

addy_muddy

A 22 STEP GUIDE ON PROPER GRAY-HORSE GROOMING:

  1. Assess the damage. There are stains, you just have to identify them. If your gray horse doesn’t have stains, then go away. But first tell us all how you did it.
  2. Marvel at the extent of said damage. How did she manage to get a poop stain INSIDE her ear?!
  3. Decide to pick hooves first. At least there’s a pretty solid guarantee that if nothing else, her hooves will be clean by the end of this.
  4. Curry all over until your arms are sore. Focus on the butt. Congratulate yourself on taking such good care of your pet unicorn.
  5. Grab the hard brush. Swish and flick motion, people. Levi-O-sa, not Levio-SA.
  6. Breathe in all the hair and dust you’ve just stirred up into a delicious dander-tornado and hack up a lung.
  7. Re-inspect for stains. They’re all still there. Seriously all of them. How did all that currying do absolutely nothing?
  8. Re-attack with gusto, fueled by rage. Arm starts to hurt as the anger fades. Start to loathe the curry comb. Ow my arm.
  9. Take a break to comb her mane. Did she actually manage to pee on her own neck???
  10. Maybe we could at least get her face clean?
  11. No dice, she rubbed her face into the clay mud and now she’s a Navajo war pony.
  12. Frantically search for options and catch sight of a sponge.
  13. Sponge and scrub at all the gross spots.
  14. Realize that somehow this is turning the dirt on her coat into mud that’s sticking just as tenaciously. Why is this mud so sticky? Is there secretly glue in the soil here?
  15. Give up entirely and hose your horse off. Use copious amounts of purple shampoo so your pet unicorn can be a beautiful glowing white. Find out that your horse has a sock on their hind leg that you never knew about.
  16. Wipe the tear from your-awestruck eye as you watch your stunningly gorgeous snow-white pony canter gracefully up a hill, framed by the setting sun.
  17. Wipe more tears as your stunningly gorgeous snow-white pony rolls around in a poop-mud slurry, taking special care to rub it deep into her mane.
  18. Get into staring contest with your horse, the smug bastard.
  19. Your horse wins the staring contest.
  20. Sigh and go home covered in white hair, dirt, mud, and Mystery Substance F.
  21. Try not to cry. Cry a lot.
  22. Repeat as needed.

addy_outside

There you have it, folks! A simple, easy to follow guide on how to keep your pet unicorn shining brightly in the warmer weather!

Sorry George, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Advertisements

Ode to the Packers

I’m not talking about the football team here.

I’m talking about the horses who cart your butt around despite everything you do to get in the way.

The ones who never refuse a jump even though you’re climbing up their necks and not releasing.

The ones who stand still while waiting and move forward as soon as they are asked, even though your aids are about as decisive as a limp noodle.

The horses who make you look good because they know what they’re doing better than you do.

These are not unicorns, folks. They exist, and they are called packers. And I think they are massively under appreciated. Because of things like this:

Let me just clarify: I agree with this 100%. I will be first in line to say that difficult horses teach us how to ride effectively. Learning to encourage a horse to accept the bit when they’re resisting, to sit a buck, to stop a gallop, to anticipate and counteract a refusal, and how to handle a horse just being a horse are all so necessary. Figuring out the quirks and difficulties of the horse you’re on is true equestrianism, not just keeping heels down and legs still. Learning all of these things is an education for you and for your horse as a team.

But sometimes there are horses who have gotten their education. They’ve not only gotten their education, but they’ve graduated with a Bachelor’s in Sensitivity to Aids, Masters in Finding Their Own Distance, and a PhD in Auto Changes. There are no quirks to figure out- this horse has been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, then sold the t-shirt on e-Bay for a profit. Because this horse is savvy like that.

This horse goes around on a looped rein without trying to run away with you, but he accepts the bit when it’s time to work that frame. Heck, he’ll pop into a frame without any contact at all because he has the know-how to carry himself. He’s not going to refuse that jump because he’s seen every type of obstacle there is, and he’s been taught to jump with confidence. Don’t worry, he’s got enough confidence for both of you.

He might not be a 10 mover, and he might not jump higher than 18′, and he might need 15 minutes of lunging to get the bucks out before you hop on. But when you are on his back, he will take you where you want to go without a fuss, and he will enjoy it.

He’s had his education, and he lets you focus on yours. He teaches you how to sit still and be deliberate, because he will respond to even unintentional aids. He teaches you to perfect your position, because he allows you to stop focusing on being effective and just think about being technical. He teaches you how a horse should respond to correctly given aids. He lets you relax and (re)discover the exuberant pleasure of nailing that course or test or pattern, and he gives you the confidence that yeah, you can absolutely do this.

He gives you back the education that he received. He is the teacher. And when you learn from him, you can go back to your non-packer and teach in turn. Packers are what drive the cycle of correct training, both for horse and rider.

Difficult horses are so interesting and rewarding to ride, and they are what make us equestrians. Keep riding those tough horses so they can push you to be your best and you can push them in turn. But be grateful for the packers in your life, because they have taught you more than you realize.

What have you learned from your packers? Your “difficult” horses?

Battle of the Sexes: Mares vs. Geldings

“You tell a gelding, you discuss it with a mare.”

“You don’t scare me, I ride a mare.”

“I don’t need a boyfriend, my gelding is sweeter than any human guy.”

Any of these look/sound familiar? Everyone seems to have an opinion on why geldings are the best or why everyone should ride mares. I’ll admit that I’m still on the fence.

I learned how to ride on an old mare that would cart me around as I bumped up and down on her back and stood still while I braided her tail. Jumping came a bit later on a big gelding named Mr. Snuffleupagus who good-naturedly carried me over glorified ground poles. Camp horses always ended up being spunky fun mares to gallop around with. My first horse was a studdish gelding who tossed me more times and won me more blue ribbons than I can count. Addy, as you know, is a lady-like mare who’s re-teaching me the ropes.

I’ve had so many amazing horses in my life and few of them met the stereotypes. There have been plenty of quiet gentleman-like geldings that passed through, but my boy Star was anything but gentlemanly. His ground manners were atrocious and he would not let a missed distance go without throwing a bunny-rabbit-hippity-hop temper tantrum. He had the most personality of any horse I’ve ever met- not your typical easy-going gelding.

There is a home video showing this guy bucking me off roughly 15 minutes after this picture was taken.
There is a home video showing this guy bucking me off roughly 15 minutes after this picture was taken.

There have been a few quirky mares too. But Addy has never shown a hint of being “mare-ish” in the months that she’s been at the barn, and I never have to discuss things with her. She’s willing to listen and follow in ways that geldings from my past wouldn’t.

Addy hasn't indicated that she even knows how to buck
Addy hasn’t indicated that she even knows how to buck

My vote for the mares vs. geldings debate: both! Give me a horse that I can play with and learn with, and I don’t care about anything else. I’ve had too many old-soul mares and fussy geldings to buy into a stereotype.

What do you think? Mares 4eva or geldings + u = ❤ ?? Why?

Dusty Troxels, Internet Fame, and Horse Show Plans

This past weekend was chock full of awesomeness on the horse front! After a bit of a roller coaster last week, I’m so excited to share the awesomeness with you.

  • Addy and I had a bareback day. This may sound super minor to most of you, but I haven’t had a “goof-off” day since I owned my own horse in high school. There just isn’t the time to do that when you’re lessoning once a week on a school horse. Getting to hop on and bump around the farm a bit was so relaxing and made me feel like a “real” horse person again! I rode in street clothes and a dusty old Troxel (the dead bug was removed from the helmet before I used it) and got absolutely covered in hair, but it was totally therapeutic.
  • I’m on the internet! I submitted a picture from a recent lesson to Judge My Ride and I got a really quick response from Rob Gage! He didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t expect- I know Addy has perfect form, I was pretty happy with my upper body, and my legs desperately need strengthening- but it was awesome to get that feedback from him. Check out my post on their website here, or see it on Pinterest! Having my picture in two places totally makes me internet famous, right??

  • We have scheduled our first horse show!!! We’ll be attending the LTD show at Morven Park in Leesburg, VA on February 21. The plan now is to do the 2’6″ Schooling Hunter division, but that’s still under discussion. It’s right down the road from our barn and a fairly small show, so I think it’ll be a perfect low-key low-pressure way to enter the show ring. A little nervous and a whole lot excited.

Lots of good things, but as always in the horse world, something had to go wonky. Owner Lady said that Addy was a bit of a nut on Saturday, so Sunday I showed up (crop in hand) ready to WORK. She clearly had excess energy and I was going to flatwork that right into the ground. I was ready to go, and I felt that I needed a grueling ride to get my mental focus back- so of course I went to pick out Addy’s feet to get her ready to rumble. And she was missing a shoe.

Argh! The farrier will be there this week so we won’t lose too much time, but I have a feeling that these days off are going to make her even more energetic. I did stay on Sunday and groom her for a solid hour, so I still got my horse therapy that day and Addy got her scratches and treats.

Not the best wrap-up to the weekend, but lots to look forward to! Wish me luck when I do get back on…

Who else has a post on Judge My Ride to share? When’s your first show of the season? Anyone heading to Morven Park on the 21st??

Double Whammy

Brace yourself for a long post today, Dear Reader, because I had two lessons this week! Twice the sweat, twice the fun, twice the muscle aches, twice the word count!

Let’s start off with Tuesday’s lesson: pretty standard up until the very last minute. Addy was feeling extremely peppy on the flat because (a) I was pretty tired and gross on Monday so she didn’t get much exercise and (b) turnout has been sporadic due to the crappy weather. Lots of circles to get her listening and stop her careening around like a freight train. Once we were thoroughly warmed up on the flat and cantering in place (she was very happy to woah, just didn’t want to stop cantering. She was doing a three beat walk, it was as ridiculous as it sounds) we started going over some ground poles. She jumped them like they were 2’6″ a couple times, then realized that trotting over them like a normal pony would be fine. This was close enough to jumping that it settled her down- like I mentioned last week, she always quiets down to do her job when we start jumping even if she’s a snorty beast on the flat. We slowly built up the course and ended up with this:

february_twostride

Trot in an extended two-stride then collected two-stride, change direction over the green, same trot-in double two-stride on the other side, then another change of direction over the other middle jump. We kept the jumps quite low since we were focused on adjustability more than anything else.

This all went as expected- Addy wasn’t thrilled about the collected parts, but sat back and listened well. She liked the turns over the middle and we measured our striding correctly around the whole course. She was responsive and balanced and lovely. Hooray! At the very end of the lesson, things were going so well that I asked Trainer if I could give the 2-stride exercise a try with the jumps up.

Let this be a lesson to myself: if everything is going well, CALL IT A DAY.

Trainer did in fact put the jumps up REAL big (I swear it looked 3’6″ but I’ve been informed it was just barely 3′) and said to go for it! I trotted in quite happily, got the nice two stride to the second jump, desperately half-halted to get the collected two to the monster jump at the end, prepared for take-off, aaaaaand she ducked off to the left. We tried again, with my left leg pushing hard and all my body language saying “don’t go left!” She went left. And then did it again.

Wait, what?! My angel pony, ducking out of a jump and being lazy because she doesn’t like to collect? Doing something wrong?! Say it isn’t so!

At this point it was clear that I was just reinforcing bad habits, but I reverted to my weeny-mode and was scared to use my crop too much. In fact, this was the first time I’ve ever carried a crop with her and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. Trainer lowered the last jump for us to drill through a few times, and then put it back up while we had the momentum. She had a rail on the left to funnel us in and was standing over there to encourage Addy to just jump the darn thing.

We jumped that thing so far over to the right I think we cleared the standard.

But we made it! It wasn’t pretty, but we made it over the jump! She got lots of pats and we celebrated that she jumped it even though she clearly didn’t want to.

It was not one of our finer moments. In fact, this was the most trouble I’ve ever had on her- the only times she’s ducked out in the past have been because I getting in her way or miscommunicating. This time she was ducking out simply because it was a little out of her comfort zone. Because of that this ended up being an extremely valuable lesson: she learned that she has to trust me to get her to the jump and then she has to follow through, and I learned that my seat is far more developed than I thought it was. I could’ve easily tumbled off the side at any of those duck-outs, but I was able to stay solidly in the tack and handle her shenanigans. I didn’t particularly want to handle those shenanigans, but I have the muscle tone to go with the muscle memory to do what I need to do now.

Moving on to Wednesday:

Manfriend came! He dutifully fulfilled his role as photographer/videographer extraordinaire, so definitely check out my Instagram (@hellomylivia) ’cause I’m gonna be posting some highlights.

We warmed up with a decent amount of no-stirrup work (hence the soreness) and Addy was marginally less peppy. Still not thrilled about downwards transitions, but she had fewer ants in her pants than Tuesday so it was more civilized. The jumps were set up in the same configuration as Wednesday, so after warming up over some ground poles we got to it.

Trainer put the back jump up again and no duck-outs this time! It wasn’t quite as high as Tuesday so it was a little less intimidating for both of us, and she was more familiar with the combination this time around. All in all, she was a rockstar!

As we were wrapping up the lesson, we did try a slightly different course: jumps 5-6-7, serpentine over 4 to 8, then hairpin off the rail back over 1-2-3. I’ll wait here while you check out the diagram again. This one went so well! We had gotten the hang of the awkward striding in the combinations, and she’ll turn on a dime so all of those went well. I’m finally learning to sit nice and deep in the tack around those turns so I can help her balance, and she’s responding by pushing off more with her hind end. Better riding leads to better effort from the horse, who knew?!

Sadly manfriend had stepped out of the ring for a moment so he didn’t catch that last course on video. I though briefly about trying it again for the camera, but I learned my lesson on Tuesday: when there’s nothing to fix, don’t try to fix it. She was such a good girl for the entire lesson- even if she did still do that weird canter-walk hybrid from time to time- so she got to be done and get her carrots.

My angel pony came back to me. Confidence is back up and I can’t wait to get back on ASAP! For now though, I’m going to take some Advil and try to figure out how on earth I got so sore.

PS- Here’s a little highlights clip I put together! The jumps were nice and low so we could focus on other things, but look at how big she jumps them! I’ll be posting some stills on my Instagram so you can see how she tucks up and jumps so cute even over the little crossrails. I would love to get constructive criticism, so fire away!

(Apologies for the vertical filming, I know that makes for an awkward YouTube video. I swear it looks really cool on my phone)

How do you correct your horse when they duck out like that? What exercises do you use on the flat to work on your canter adjustability?

Tack Wishlist

Sometimes when things are slow at work I daydream about what I would buy if I won the lottery. And of course most of the list is horse gear. So without further ado, my list of what I would get if my bank account magically expanded:

  • A Tad Coffin saddle. I don’t own a saddle at this point and this is my biggest wish. I used to ride in my trainers Tad Coffin in high school and it was sooooo comfortable. A slightly-used already-broken-in version sounds perfect. A girl can dream. (Psst this one please)
  • An Ogilvy half pad. Man, I’ve been seeing these all over Instagram and I have major saddle pad envy. With a monogrammed cover? Why yes that would be fine.
  • Shaped fleece pad. One of those big cushy ones that’s gonna look awesome in the hunter ring.
  • Leather fleecy leg boots. I’m drooling over these ones, they’re just so sporty and classic and pretty. Seriously. Drool.
  • Spurs. Why do I want these? I have no idea. I have some vague idea that it might help force me to control my leg movement better. Addy certainly has no need of spurs, her go-button is plenty sensitive without them.
  • Polo shirts to look sharp in when I lesson. Wait, what? Polo shirts are pennies compared to the other things on this list! But I have plenty of nicely-fitted t-shirts, and this overly practical girl just can’t justify the expense. For now, polo shirts stay on the Want list, not the Need list.

There you have it! Not a super long list, but definitely something to inspire me to pack those lunches and save those dollars!

What’re you saving up for this year?

2015 Horse World Resolutions

December_rearview
Addy’s resolution is to keep showing off dat rump.

I’m jumping on the resolutions bandwagon. Tomorrow I plan on sharing my real-life resolutions, but today I’m focusing on what I’d like to accomplish in 2015 in my barn life. In no particular order:

  • Get comfortable schooling 3′. When I left off riding several years ago I was a huge weenie scaredy cat, and 2’6″ was pretty much my limit. Now that I have the confidence and the horse to go higher, I want to go for it!
  • Make it to a horse show. This is a huge one, and hopefully something I can check off the list before warmer weather rolls around. I’ll be happy with a small local show, but I want to show off my new show coat!
  • Try a jumper class. I have always been an eq rider, ever since the first time I sat on a horse. My trainer always blamed my classical ballet training for that. With this newfound courage comes a newfound desire to go fast. Fast + careful horse = ready for something new.
  • Live through a lesson with no stirrups. Ten years ago my trainer would take away my stirrups every winter, and I wouldn’t get them back til spring. You can bet my legs were more stable than the rock of Gibraltar. I don’t care if I can’t walk afterwards, I want to make it all the way through an hour lesson.
  • Keep up my confidence. This may seem kinda vague, but I’ve always been an extremely timid rider. Since returning as an adult I’ve noticed that I’m a lot braver and willing to try new things, and I want to keep that momentum going. I know there will be bad/scary/intense rides in the future, and I want to be able to take those in stride (literally and figuratively).

Care to share your resolutions for the new year? Think there’s anything I should add?